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New exoskeleton: Bryan Health's high-tech exoskeleton helps patients learn to walk again

Bryan Health on Tuesday unveiled a new technology it is using with patients who have recently suffered a stroke or injury to the brain or spine.

The computer-controlled walking frame exoskeleton is designed to increase safety while patients learn to walk again.

It supports the patient's body weight and promotes a normal walking pattern. Settings can be adjusted as needed to prevent patients from falling or withdrawing from assistance.

A Lincoln man reflected on how far he has come since he began using the technology a year ago.

Shortly after his father's death, 52-year-old Brian Carlson was diagnosed with COVID-19.

He was about to move to the family farm with his five children when the disease took a turn.

Carlson developed a rare neurological complication that altered his immune system to attack his muscles and nerves.

He spent some time in Bryan Health's intensive care unit, was on a ventilator and lay completely paralyzed.

"I couldn't really lift my arms to feed myself, I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't move my legs, I couldn't lift or bend my toes," Carlson said. "So they suggested this exoskeleton as something new that had just been donated to the hospital by the Eagles Club."

Carlson was one of the first patients to use the device.

The computerized walker, donated to him by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, helped him regain enough strength to return to a normal life as a preschool teacher.

"I think once I tried it and realized it wasn't that bad, we set goals like a certain number of steps or trying to make it to the end of the gym," he said. "Then I knew I was probably going to make it out of the hospital."

For six weeks, roughly from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, Carlson was in the hospital.

But this year he rocks again with the whole family around the Christmas tree.

During the presentation, donors and physical therapists shared how much it means to see "a powerful emotional impact on people."

"It can give patients so much more confidence," said Barb Wagner, lead physical therapist at Bryan West. "It allows them to feel what it's like to be awake and normal when they can't from a physical standpoint."

Currently, only four physical therapists are trained with the exoskeleton, but they have helped over 40 patients in the last year.

Nebraska is the only state with three of the devices funded by local donations.

Currently, only six are in use across the country, but experts hope more are on the way to help patients on the road to recovery.

Tom Illauer

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